Thursday, 15 May 2008

Building Boys and Growing Girls pt3

If you have not read pt1 and pt2 of this series, please read them first.


: God builds boys and grows girls through the circumstances of their lives
This principle is an extension of the way God works in the lives of all believers. Even in the early years when a child is not yet a believer, God is still Sovereign and He will act in their lives according to His purposes (for His glory).

James wrote (1:3-4), "you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." He also taught that the opportunities in our lives come according to the Lord's will (James 4:13-15). Peter wrote (1 Peter 1:6-7), " for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so thjat your faith ... may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed." In the same letter Peter taught that God's people are being built up to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5,9).

It is in the knowledge that God does not leave people to be purely controlled by their chemistry and biology, but uses the circumstances of their lives to build and grow them up into the people He wants them to be, that we can understand the reasoning behind the instruction (Ephesians 6:4) to bring up children "in the training and instruction of the Lord." This echoes the Proverbial command (Proverbs 22:6) to "Train a child in the way he should go". Parents have the God-given responsibility to bring their child up in the ways of the Lord, which include saving knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ (more on that in Friday's post) but also in the way in which their lives should go according to God's purposes for them in line with the gender He has given them.

: Mothering to build boys and grow girls
Support and encourage Boy Time
At the outset, I have to make it clear that it is not the mother who is the most influential parent in this process for boys; it is the father. According to Dr Joseph Nicolosi (quoted by Dr James Dobson in Bringing Up Boys), "Mothers make boys. Fathers make men." While unconditional love from mothers is important in the earliest years, as a boy grows he needs to align himself with his father, not his mother. This is especially true from around 18 months to 3 years (while the boy's understanding of what a man is is being formed) and again in the adolescent years (while the boy is undergoing the physical maturation into the body of the man he will be).

So the most important thing a mother can do to build her son is to encourage and assist him to spend time with his Dad, doing "boy stuff". Boy Time is a time for the son to receive his father's affection, attention and approval. My husband says this is about the boy spending time observing his father live life as a man - a Christian man. How does Dad treat women other than Mum? How does Dad speak to other kids? What does he talk about to other men and in what way? What does he do? How does he do it? It is an opportunity for boys to see their father's daily life, in order that they might learn to value it and aspire to be a man like their father.

My husband suggested a wife ask her husband, "When is a good time (today/this week/this month) for me to make sure things are taken care of so our son is free to be with you? Is there any way I could help you so that you can be free to be with him?" If he says he wants to spend a certain time with his sons, she should sort out the family schedule so that this can happen. A mother should (hopefully) not need to encourage her husband to spend time with his son/s, but she should be as helpful as she can to make it possible. She does not need to suggest what they do or where they go; that's the father's job. But she can facilitate and support Boy Time so that it is able to happen regularly.

A mother can also support Boy Time through the way she talks to her son/s. She should be positive and encouraging, with regards to both the activity and the male nature of their father. She might say, "I'm glad you are going to Karate lessons with Dad. It's great for you to learn to be strong and to control your strength." She might add, "Wasn't it great that Dad made up your very own bed time story last night when you were getting your cuddles? I was so happy to hear you praying together." (This sounds corny, but so long as she is sincere, her words will encourage rather than flatter.) She might ask, "Did you have fun on your trip to the hardware store with Dad? I'm pleased that he is teaching you all about tools and other men's things." She should recognise and appreciate the building manhood of her son.

Now some people would object to my use of the phrases "boy stuff" and "men's things". I'm not trying to say a woman should never learn how to change a tyre or mow a lawn. These are both things that my Dad taught me, which have come in handy especially since I married a man with a longstanding back injury. Rather, in recent conversations with my husband, he has explained to me that it is important - and good - for some activities and objects to be labelled (at least for a time when the child's understanding of masculinity and femininity is being formed) as male or female. Not everything needs to be unisex, especially if our aim is to build boys to the glory of God.

A very important thing is that Dads read Bible stories to their children, especially their boys. An awful lot of Christian men leave the Bible reading to their wives. This is very unfortunate, because it gives the kids the impression that Christianity is only for girls. It can be difficult for men, espcially if they struggle to understand the Bible for themselves, which is not uncommon (according to my husband).

Kids can often ask odd questions which can be difficult to answer, because children are looking at the Bible stories with a clear set of eyes, they do not have a contextual understanding yet nor even basic theological and doctrinal knowledge. It is okay for adults to tell their kids "I'll answer that one tomorrow night," as long as they do. It is important to stick to narratives with young children. It's a good idea to get a children's Bible story book or a standard Bible which has comments that help find the focus of the story. Mothers need to be very careful that they do not pre-empt their husband's Bible reading with their own efforts. They can, however, make it as easy for their husband as possible. Have the story Bible ready there at the table with the breakfast bowls or dinner plates, for starters. Having a set routine will greatly assist regularity.

Respecting and honouring husbands
In supporting and encouraging Boy Time, the wife is also respecting and honouring her husband, as she is called to do in the Bible. Talk about two birds and one stone!

At times a mother will need to apologise to her husband and her children for words she has said or things she has done which have been disrespectful to her husband. I had to do this just last night when I let my frustration out in innappropriate ways. Be honest and humble! If a wife has acted badly towards her husband in front of her children, she will need to apologise to them as well as to him, because she needs to show them she knows what she did was wrong and she is taking responsibility for making it right. It is not enough for her to apologise just to her husband, because she has also hurt her children through this action.

On a positive note, a mother should take time to praise her husband in her children's hearing, as well as out of it. She should thank him publicly for the way he "husbands" her and the entire family, managing the family's resources, providing for their needs, protecting them and giving them pastoral, priestly direction.

Requiring appropriate obedience and respect
Mothers should be careful that in their encouragement of boy stuff and Boy Time, they do not go overboard. Mothers should be clear in their conversations with their children: boys are not the boss of girls, nor are (even) all men the boss of all women. Neither of these is correct biblically. Rather, a mother should teach her children (through both word and deed) that wives are to respect and submit to their own husbands; that a husband is the head of his own wife; and that God is the boss of both men and women.

Another thing to be clear on: boys are not the boss of their mother. Boys will often stretch their manly wings by usurping the mother's authority (or attempting to). They need to learn that the only man who has been given authority over their mother is their mother's husband (and, when she was younger, her father). All children need to be taught to obey their parents and respect other adults. Some things to consider: training all children in First Time Obedience and Respectful Manners.

Modelling Biblical womanhood to daughters in Girl Time
What mothers do will be more influential than what they say to their daughters. Mothers should let their daughters spend time with them doing womanly things. This is Girl Time: letting them sit nearby and pretend to nurse their dolls while she feeds the baby; cuddling them and holding them when they are sad or upset and also just because she loves them; encouraging them to stand nearby and talk or help while she prepares dinner (maybe putting them in a highchair so they can see from a safe distance if they are young and squirmy); asking them to wash the plastic crockery in the sink after she has washed the china and glassware; giving them a little broom to sweep ahead of Mummy as she cleans the floor; taking them along when she goes to visit and serve a sick friend or to talk and pray with an older lady from church.

Playing together can offer a chance for womanhood modelling as well, if the mother talks as they play about womanly things. I don't mean a constant barrage of lectures on womanhood, I mean a gentle ebb and flow of conversation which at times includes matters such as marriage, mothering, love of others, being a servant, and being a daughter of the King.

A mother needs to demonstrate respectful submission to her husband before her daughters, so that they may learn from her example. I know this can be difficult. But if a mother desires that her daughters may have an easier time than she in submitting to God, the mother should do what she can to teach her daughters to submit to the men in their lives whom God has appointed to authority over them. If girls cannot submit to their proximate authority in the world (their father), it will be very hard for them to submit to their ultimate authority: God.

I must add a warning here. If you have a daughter, any time that you are both awake and she is anywhere within sight, sound or thought of you is Girl Time. A daughter's heart is always learning from her mother. This is a scary thought - but far less awesome than the reality of God's coming final judgement of all people. Consider the close presence of your daughter and her watchfulness as a spur to remind you that God is with you, desiring your obedience in all things. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body."

A mother must make sure that her own life is on the right track as regards to God's will for her as a woman before she can adequately grow her daughter. She may need to repent of certain attitudes, words or actions. Then, she must take responsibility for being the gardener whose efforts grow her daughter into a godly woman. 'Water' her and give her 'fertiliser', remove 'weeds' from around her, provide a 'trellis' or 'stake' so she can grow bigger and more mature. How will you do these things in the life of your daughter?

This is not an exclusive list of things which can be done by mothers to build their sons and grow their daughters. Rather, it is a list to work with and start from.


Coming up next:
What every child needs, regardless of their gender - a relationship with God!

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